Jordan Braces for Israeli Elections as Parliament Moots Unravelling of 1994 Peace Treaty

Published September 17th, 2019 - 11:53 GMT
Netanyahu pledged last week to annex the Jordan Valley, which amounts to one-third of the West Bank, if he wins Tuesday's elections /AFP
Netanyahu pledged last week to annex the Jordan Valley, which amounts to one-third of the West Bank, if he wins Tuesday's elections /AFP

 

25 years ago, King Hussein and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed a historic declaration, formally ending the 46-year state of war between Jordan and Israel. The peace treaty signed 3 months later, established diplomatic relations, expanded cooperative security arrangements and paved the way for bilateral economic ties.

Though experts often argue that the relationship is in many senses a ‘cold peace’, characterised by a lack of enthusiasm on both sides, a long, shared border, similar perceptions of security threats, and a largely pro-Western outlook have maintained stability in relations between the two nations.

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Yet rash decision making by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a desperate attempt to hold on to power in Israeli elections, threatens to reverse hard fought gains and cause unnecessary tensions between the Hashemite Kingdom and the Israeli state.

Following a pledge by Mr Netanyahu last Wednesday to annex the Jordan Valley if re-elected, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives, Atef Tarawneh, stated that such a move may put the peace treaty at risk. Mr Tarawneh accused Israel of having ‘studiously broken all international treaties and UN resolutions’, and rejected ‘all the racist statements coming from the leadership of the occupier’.

These sentiments were echoed by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who condemned Mr Netanyahu’s announcement as ‘a dangerous escalation that is aimed at blowing up the foundations of the peace process’. Mr Netanyahu has greatly raised the regional stakes of today’s Israeli elections, and the eyes of Jordanians will be fixed on their important results.
 

Following a pledge by Mr Netanyahu last Wednesday to annex the Jordan Valley if re-elected, the speaker of Jordan’s House of Representatives, Atef Tarawneh, stated that such a move may put the peace treaty at risk.


The decision to hold an election in Israel comes after Mr Netanyahu’s Likud Party failed to form a viable coalition after Israelis went to the polls in April. Likud and the bloc of right-wing parties with which it has governed since 2015 was re-elected in April with 65 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. However, 5 of those 65 seats belong to the party of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, a secular right-wing party mainly representative of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

Mr Lieberman, who emerged as a king maker following the election, insisted on the passage of an existing bill to institutionalise the military service of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men, an issue that did not sit well with Mr Netanyahu’s other Ultra-Orthodox coalition partners. With Mr Lieberman refusing to budge, Likud initiated a bill to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections.
 

Domestically, Mr Netanyahu is under considerable pressure. He faces three criminal charges including for bribery and the Israeli Attorney General announced in February that he would be indicted, pending a final hearing in October.
 

Domestically, Mr Netanyahu is under considerable pressure. He faces three criminal charges including for bribery and the Israeli Attorney General announced in February that he would be indicted, pending a final hearing in October. If Mr Netanyahu wins outright, he will almost certainly seek immunity from prosecution - he can do so under current law with approval of the Knesset which can grant immunity to members for acts committed in due course of parliamentary membership.

Other issues at play involve Israel’s internal security situation, ongoing contestation over the status of religion within Israeli politics, and around migration and ethnicity in an increasingly multicultural polity. Polling agencies see the election as too close to call. Mr Netanyahu may be advantaged by high turnout rates amongst Ultra-Orthodox Jews and low turnout among Arab-Israelis.

A woman walks past a giant election billboard showing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb 3  /AFP

Yet his main opponent, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White alliance was a popular Chief of Staff of the Israeli Defence Forces from 2011-2015 and has pledged popular initiatives to invest in early education and expand health care. Entering the Knesset requires parties to meet a threshold of 3.5% of the national vote. Parties which poll at over this threshold secure 4 parliamentary seats whilst those under it gain no representation at all.

For this reason, small variations in the vote can have considerable impacts on the make-up of the parliament, and, in turn, coalition negotiations. Whilst many suggest that a return of Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc is the most likely election outcome, a Blue and White coalition victory is not out of the question. Nor is a national unity government containing Blue and White and Likud, but not led by Mr Netanyahu.
 

a Blue and White coalition victory is not out of the question. Nor is a national unity government containing Blue and White and Likud, but not led by Mr Netanyahu.


The result of Israel’s election is not an exclusively national affair. It will have significant repercussions regionally, particularly in its largest neighbour, Jordan. The preservation and stability of Jordan has long been a key component of Israel’s national security, and Jordanian authorities share an interest in counterterrorism and the regional containment of Iran. Yet sources of tension between the states remain numerous.

In recent months, tensions over the status of the Temple Mount and the powers of the Jordanian appointed Waqf in Jerusalem have escalated. A $10 billion deal, inked in 2016, which involved the selling of gas from Israel to Jordan remains controversial, whilst other promised shared infrastructure projects like the Red-Sea-Dead-Sea Canal have failed to materialise.

Yet it is in relation to the Palestinian issue that tensions risk to spiral out of control. Though Mr Gantz’s Blue and White alliance has also voiced support for annexing Israeli settlements and territorial acquisition in the West Bank, it has proved far less interested in realising these aims than Mr Netanyahu’s allies.

A further deterioration in the situation in the West Bank and a security crisis there would put considerable pressure on Jordan. In the first instance, Jordan has long bore the brunt of the decades long Palestinian refugee crisis. 2.1 million registered Palestinian refugees reside in the Hashemite Kingdom and internal ruptures in Palestinian territories cause increasing population movements.

An empowered Likud government, backed by a range of pro-settler, Ultra-Orthodox allies, may significantly expand Israel’s territorial reach and inflame popular tensions in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world.

More importantly, rash moves by Mr Netanyahu sit badly amongst the Jordanian population. Though most are willing to grudgingly accept the strategic relations developed between their country and the Israeli state, many remain deeply concerned about the status and rights of the Palestinian community. An empowered Likud government, backed by a range of pro-settler, Ultra-Orthodox allies, may significantly expand Israel’s territorial reach and inflame popular tensions in Jordan and elsewhere in the Arab world.
 

Mr Netanyahu may well gain temporary support amongst his right-wing base by promising harder line stances on issues related to Israeli territory and the identity of the Israeli state. However, such moves risk the status of arrangements far more important to Israel’s security situation and its standing in the Arab world. Jordanians know better than most the potentially catastrophic consequences that this may generate.

The views in this article do not necessarily reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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